Suicide Bombers Head to Iraq from Damascus

[Sunday Times-UK] Hala Jaber and Ali Rifat - Ahmed, 23, has a degree in chemistry. He knows all about explosives. Last year, he says, he took 15kg of TNT, packed it into pouches with some nails, and strapped the bomb to his 19-year-old brother's waist. He placed detonators in both his brother's trouser pockets and a third in a shirt pocket, just in case the others failed. The Damascus flat where we met was rented by a handler who channels aspiring "martyrs" to insurgent groups. More than 1,300 suicide bombers have struck in Iraq since 2003. The bombers have killed and injured more than 4,000 people in the first nine months of 2007. In interviews with men passing through Syria on their way to die in Iraq, we found articulate, middle-class men in their twenties and early thirties who had come from good homes and gone to university. One was a newly married accountant. Yet all had reached the chilling conclusion that killing "sinners" would transport them to paradise. According to Mohammed Hafez, a visiting professor at the University of Missouri and author of Suicide Bombers in Iraq, the Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom, the influence of the Saudi Wahhabis is key to any understanding of the phenomenon. His study of 139 suicide bombings found that 53 were carried out by Saudis, compared with 18 by Iraqis, seven by Syrians and four by Jordanians. The Saudis had already fought foreign jihads in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya, Hafez said. In Iraq they exploited the culture of martyrdom established by Palestinian suicide bombers. The targeting of so many Shi'ites has been consistent with their beliefs. "Wahhabi tradition sees the ascendancy of Shia as [a] worse evil than occupation by infidels, because Shia are heretics and apostates," said Hafez. Abu Ziad takes eager volunteers, inveigles them into Iraq for a fee and delivers them to insurgents who consign them to a bloody death with clinical efficiency. His network includes the imams who drum up the volunteers and forgers who create new identities for their journey across the border with Iraq. Then there are the officials he bribes to turn a blind eye, and insurgent groups ranging from the pan-Arab, fundamentalist Al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Iraqi nationalist 1920 Revolution Brigade, started by former members of Saddam's armed forces.

2007-10-08 01:00:00

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